The beginning is the most important
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The beginning is the most important

As many innovative practices do, this one happened entirely by accident. Indian Trails K8 Center opened in Flagler County, Florida in 1996. For those of us who worked with all age groups and thoroughly enjoyed each one, the enthusiasm of a kindergartner checking out a book for the first time, the functionality of a sixth grader learning to use a search engine, and the surprising kindness and respect a fourteen year old is capable of when dealing with a small child were highlights of every day. Then they left. A new elementary school was built next door, and we became a more typical middle school with just grades 6-8. This was a completely necessary step; the school housed 2500 students at its apex and we required over 40 portable classrooms. But boy did we miss our elementary students. Indian Trails morphed yet again when our school board decided to act on the research data that suggested sixth graders have more academic success when they are housed in an elementary school. We now educate 7th and 8th graders only and currently have an enrollment of 950 students, despite a building capacity that sits at 1400. What to do with all this empty space? Pre-K programs were bursting at the seams and the school board acted again, moving one of our district Pre-K programs to Indian Trails Middle School.

Indian Trails now houses eighty four-year-olds in four classes. These children are absolutely irresistible. They occupy their own wing at the end of the building, where parents have easy access without running into those taller (and scarier) students utilizing the rest of the building. Parents were initially frightened about allowing their precious little ones loose in a middle-school building. What they did not realize was that every time those little ones walk down the hall, the big kids turn to mush. They aren’t tough, they don’t push, and they don’t argue. They “ooooh” and “aaaah”. Those of us who love middle school students already knew this about them, but cute “babies” do bring out the best in all of us.

The school’s teacher librarian, Monica Campana, heard about the plan to bring the little ones into the building in August. She sent an email to Adult Ed (the sponsors of our program) and the district, for Easy books as our collection was weeded when we lost our elementary students. The district Reading Coach, Lynnette Shott, donated several hundred books and we had the beginning of a collection. We invited Pre-K to come in every Friday and enjoy story time and engaging learning activities correlated to the weekly lessons in their curriculum. These activities are followed by checkout, where they select books from those spread out on the media center tables. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen their little faces light up as they select titles to check out, correctly pronounce their first and last names at the circulation desk, and proudly carry their books back to their classrooms. Our older students often come in for a lesson when leftover books remain on the tables and reminisce about the good old days when books were short and fun. It is also an incredible opportunity for older students to see adults modeling the engagement and teaching of young children. There are times when the middle school students beg to read to them! What fourteen year old asks to read aloud? Then there are those who notice the books and borrow them to read to siblings or children they are babysitting. This alone is worthy of replication!

We have taped the Pre-K saying the Pledge of Allegiance to use on our daily news broadcast, just like the other homerooms in the building. Their pictures appear on Channel 75 where a daily Power Point runs continuously with news, pictures and updates. They trick or treat, decorate our halls and enrich our lives daily. Joanie Davis, Pre-K program manager and her entire staff, are excited to be part of the Indian Trails Mustang family. They realize how cherished they are here.

A seventh-grade teacher, Joy Davies, designed a writing activity during which her students rewrote and illustrated a fairy tale featuring their “adopted” Pre-K student as the main character in which books were created by her students. When finished creating the book, Joy Davies’ students read it to the Pre-K students and gave it to them as a gift. Those books will be treasured for years to come.

Our music teacher, Craig Riehl, was also an early adopter as he too missed the elementary students. He invited the Pre-K students to participate with his music classes. Walk by his room on Thursdays, and you will hear them singing along to the strumming of his guitar-playing seventh graders.

Most recently, our home economics teacher, Lynn Shields, invited Pre-K to her classes to study nutrition with the middle school students. We are hoping they will remember us when they bake homemade, nutritious goodies.

Although it began by accident, it turned out to be one of the happiest kind. No one in the building can maintain a frown when the Pre-K walks by; a happy line of quiet smiles, waving arms, and friendly greetings. The beginning is indeed the most important, and how grateful we are that our middle school students are able to participate in making it a good one.

Contributors: Monica Campana; ITMS Teacher Librarian, Angela Conner; ITMS LA Teacher, Cara Cronk; ITMS LA Teacher, Joy Davies; ITMS SS Teacher and Heather Lo; ITMS LA Teacher

*Donations of Easy books may be dropped off at the ITMS front desk M-F between 7am – 3pm

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